Supporters of Syrian leader Bashar Assad rally at the Turkey-Syria border. (Ayse Wieting / Associated…)
Reporting from Beirut — Syrian forces widened a countrywide crackdown early Friday in defiance of growing international demands for an immediate end to violence, launching dawn raids that killed a woman near the Turkish border and a male protester in a Damascus suburb, according to reports gathered by Syrian activists.
Fridays have been the largest days of protests throughout the Arab revolutions. Today was expected to provide a critical test of whether the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad would heed the increasing international warnings to cease attacks on demonstrators.
Turkey, a neighbor and until recently an ally of Assad, said this week it would be watching Syria closely in coming days as it weighed calls for tough measures. On Friday, Turkey's Zaman newspaper reported that the Turkish military -- apparently alarmed by Syrian raids near the Turkish border -- had called up all retired officers to deal with the growing tensions, sending many to provinces along the frontier with Syria.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday that she was pushing other countries, particularly China and India, to join in before the United States would call for Assad to step down. A continuation or escalation of violence by Syria would strengthen Clinton's hand.
Despite the international pressure, Syria has shown no signs of relenting in offensives against civilian protesters calling for Assad's removal.
Early Friday, Syrian tanks and troops raided Khan Sheikhon, a town in the northern province of Idlib near the Turkish border, killing one woman, according to the Observatory for Human Rights, based in London.
In Saqba, a suburb of the Syrian capital, Syrian forces opened fire on protesters who gathered after dawn prayers, killing one man, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a coalition of opposition groups.
The border area has been the scene of repeated Syrian offensives that Turkey says have pushed more than 7,000 Syrians into refugee camps just inside Turkey.
On Thursday, Syrian soldiers shot dead at least 11 people in a western town near Lebanon and stormed the town of Saraqbe, near Turkey's border.
Activists set the theme for today's protests in Syria as "We Only Kneel Before God." With funerals of slain activists taking place every day during the Syrian escalation of attacks on protesters, which comes during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the slogan signals the growing religious mood of the protests.